Categories
Short Cuts

Day jobs: Linz Hamilton (Vodun) – musician and electrician

As part of a new series looking at day jobs for creatives, we speak to the NZ guitarist about the merits of his side-career as a contract electrician

It can be really difficult to make a living from creative work alone. As I discussed previously with DJ/new music guru Shell Zenner, sometimes the only course is to work a day job and try to build things to a point where you can go full-time.

It is a balancing act, but done well, this approach can result in you doing more than one job you enjoy, while also easing some of the financial pressure and helping you gain some complementary skills.

Linz Hamilton (pictured top of the page, left) grew up in New Zealand and came to the UK to make his way in music. On arriving, one of the first shows he caught featured the band Vodun – a voodoo rock trio that meld big, Sabbath-y metal riffs with the powerful soul-style vocals of singer Chantal Brown (ex-Invasion, Chrome Hoof and Do Me Bad Things). As fate would have it, just few years later, he wound-up joining the group.

“It really works with the lifestyle of touring. If you’ve got a break, you can go and do a three month contract”

Creative Money icon

When he’s not occupying his role as a neon voodoo spirit, though, Linz covers his bills by working as a contract electrician. It’s a line he got into due to the foresight of his school career’s office.

“A friend of mine went to the career’s department and said, ‘I want to be a musician and play in bands’,” explains Linz. “They said to him, ‘Go and do electronics, because at least then if your gear breaks, you’ll be able to fix it.’ He went on to be a painter and I took his advice and trained to be an electrician!”

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters

Trading up

Perhaps my views are outdated, but I can’t imagine a UK equivalent being so practically-minded. Either way, it appears to have been good advice.

“It’s been really handy for me to have a trade,” says Linz. “It’s meant that I could go, ‘OK, I’m going to uproot from New Zealand, get a job, be educated, do contracting.’ It really works with the lifestyle of touring. If you’ve got a break, you can go and do a three month contract, or jump on a site for a week or so.”

Music is one of the riskier career paths and Linz says the idea of finding a complementary day job had long factored in his thinking.

“I was endorsed by my neighbour in NZ who used to make handmade guitars for me and he said, ‘Never forget that you will need a job.’ It’s not the 70s anymore where the big labels will fund you the whole way. You’ve got to love it and want to love it and you’ll have to pay your way a little bit.”

Fanning the flames

As predicted by the Linz’s school career’s advisor, the career choice has had other benefits for his music, too. Not just in understanding signal path and tone.

“It really paid off at a show in Madrid,” adds Linz. “I had to stop and resolve an electrical fire so the support band could finish their set and we could play ours!”

“It’s not the 70s… You’ve got to love it and want to love it and you’ll have to pay your way a little bit”

Creative Money icon

The other benefit of becoming an electrician is that a lot of the training can be done via a paid apprenticeship position. However, if wires aren’t your thing, Linz has one other suggestion…

“As a little side note,” adds Linz. “Chan [vocals] would also recommend cheffing/kitchen work, as she has been working for a charity Made Up Kitchen over the lockdown/pandemic, cooking donated food into a different daily menu for those in need over this crisis. She is really enjoying the ability to still be creative and giving back to the community.”

For Linz’s part though, he says he’d happily recommend electrician work for touring musicians and he’s glad he took the tip given to his friend. As Linz jokes: “It has been the best advice I never got!”

If you want more information on apprenticeships, check out the City & Guilds website. To keep up-to-date with all things Vodun

Linz Hamilton (pictured left) works a day job as an electrician when not touring
Vodun (Linz Hamilton pictured left)

Short Cuts is Creative Money’s series of quick tips, tricks and thoughts about saving or making money in the creative industries.

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.
Categories
Blogs Opinion

The ‘starving artist’ vs ‘the sell-out’ – the struggle of the creative worker

Our thoughts on the financial outcomes of life as creative workers often seem to fall into two categories: ‘the starving artist’ and ‘the sell-out’. If only it were that simple…

I would wager that everyone who earns money from creative work has wondered at some point whether or not they’re ‘selling-out’. The tropes at the heart of this struggle are are within us all: the starving artist has unimpeachable integrity but negligible income, while the sell-out picks their gigs by the paycheque. They remain locked in combat, fighting for our very souls.

We’ve all likely had cause at some point to embrace the starving artist and some of us even come to experience life at sell-out end of the scale – gaining a full understanding of the ambiguous privilege of considerable wealth and fame.

Straight line thinking – how people often think about income and integrity

Sometimes, we may also consider the evener rarer ‘third way’, wild success on our own terms – let’s call this ‘the rockstar’ – but this often seems even further removed from our view of the achievable (though Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception argues the opposite).

At other points, we may feel we have no option but to leave an industry, or take some other work on in purely to pay some bills.

Anyone who’s even come near to experiencing true poverty knows that the starving artist cliché is a false romance

Creative Money icon

What’s interesting is the extremities of these viewpoints – that we seem to ascribe the myriad outcomes of our creative work as an ‘all or nothing’ endeavour. The truth of it, though, is that it is a spectrum – and that existing on that spectrum, rather than at one of two extreme poles, is not such a bad place to be.

Anyone who’s even come near to experiencing true poverty knows that the starving artist cliché is a false romance. It’s been perpetuated throughout history, often by patrons in positions of wealth, but while understanding or experiencing poverty and the broader human condition has no doubt informed great creative work, it is certainly not a route to happiness. In fact it is, by definition, a direct route to unhappiness.

What’s it worth?

At the other end of the scale, it is widely acknowledged that while wealth can help you ‘buy’ a certain level of happiness, the benefit of greater wealth tails-off dramatically once you’ve covered your basic needs and a few extra comforts. This is a phenomenon that US blogger Mr Money Mustache has popularised and termed the Marginal Utility of Money.

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters

Even Warren Buffett, the 89 year-old billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway – and at one point the world’s richest person – counsels against the pursuit of wealth for its own sake. And this is a guy who bought his first shares aged 11.

“Doing reasonably well in this country really is pretty darn good,” he said, talking to US students in 1999. “Great wealth is the tiniest bit different, in a real sense, than having just a decent income. To trade a decent income and something you love doing… for huge wealth where you trade a lot of your principles would be a terrible mistake.”

So, if we agree that both extremes are flawed and stop trying to define our financial personalities against a minority of outliers, what does the right path actually look like? And what’s a reasonable income?

Great wealth is the tiniest bit different, in a real sense, than having just a decent income

Warren Buffett
Creative Money icon

That is yours to decide. For me, it’s enough to cover living expenses, to be able to pay for a few home comforts and holidays and to save enough to retire within the next 25 years (WHAT!?) At the more luxurious end, I’d like to spend as little time on compulsory work as possible. I like my work, but I value freedom even more.

Figuring out the numbers behind these goals is really useful to making sure you’re actually on course to meet them.

I discussed why tracking your spending is key to understanding your cash flow (and therefore getting some control over a variable income) last week, but there are other benefits to that process, too. When you know how much you spend, you know how much is enough. You know when you can stop, or say no.

As far as possible, I’d also like to get to these points above without doing work that I do not personally believe in.

Don’t do dogma

A line from our recent How I Make It Work interview with freelance journalist Lydia Wilkins sticks with me here.

“‘At the end of the day, you only have yourself to answer to.’ Regardless of having to pay your bills, keep to deadlines… if it ‘sits right’ – then that’s okay.’”

If you operate with integrity, then you avoid selling-out yourself, but only you can judge what that might look like.

The ‘starving artist’ trope comes from a belief system and, as with any belief system, there will always be a vocal minority of hardliners, who refuse to question the dogma out of some fear that the world will unravel. Instead, each of us needs to decide on our personal beliefs and principles around money and creativity – and make decisions accordingly.

There’s a broad, rich spectrum between ‘the starving artist’ and ‘the sell-out’

Creative Money icon

If you lean towards the starving artist axis then, contrary to the thinking of many, you’ll likely need to watch your expenses closely. What’s more, planning for the future and times of poor cash flow becomes even more essential.

If you lean the other way, gaining a higher income, then you may have more flexibility with your spending and insurance against the risks you take (some of which might pay-off handsomely). However, to gain true satisfaction from your work, you will likely still need some measure of your personal values built-in to it – lines you don’t cross. This might be to do with the ethics of the organisations you work with, the relative creative appeal of jobs etc. Knowing your values helps you to navigate the path.

The full spectrum – the options are much broader than many of us realise and the path you tread might change according to your priorities at the time

For instance, in my case, I am open to many different types of work. My main gig is music journalism, but I’ve written copy and advertorials, I’ve run events and managed projects, I’ve led degree courses and taught. But I’ve come to understand that if the only reason I want to take a job is the money – and I can find no other appealing features in terms of the work, my personal or career development, or the organisation I’m working with – then I am going to regret that decision.

Not everyone will feel that way – or feel they have the option to do so (particularly right now) – but that’s OK. Indeed, that’s the whole point. Creative Money is not here to promote the pursuit of untold riches, but simply to help you figure out how you can sustain yourself over the long term as a happy, creative person.

There’s a broad, rich spectrum between the tired clichés of the starving artist and the sell-out. Where do you want to be?

person holding click pen
Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

Creative Money Blogs include principles, resources and opinion pieces relating to personal finance for creatives.

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.
Categories
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Lydia Wilkins – freelance journalist

We talk useful financial/career resources for journalists, industry barriers and the difficulties of managing money as a freelancer

For this week’s How I Make It Work, Creative Money spoke to Lydia Wilkins. A freelance journalist, Wilkins [pictured above, right] has had bylines at a string of significant publications, including The Independent, The Metro and Readers Digest. Wilkins also writes her own blog, Mademoiselle Women (in which she documents life on the Autistic spectrum) and pens an excellent weekly newsletter. She is currently busy developing these into sources of income.

Like many of us, Wilkins is in the process of attempting to weave these various creative threads together in order to form a viable freelance career and support herself through her writing.

We spoke via email about the resources that have helped her figure it out thus far, what she’d change about the treatment of freelancers and how she goes about keeping track of her finances, despite her struggles with numbers.

How would you describe your current role?

“I’m a multi-hyphenate freelancer! I blog three times a week at mademoisellewomen.com. I contribute regular freelance articles to places like The Independent, Readers Digest, Refinery 29 and The Overtake – usually to do with travel, book, or autism. I’m also a webinar trainer for a small organisation that teaches strategies about Autism. I also run a weekly newsletter; this has interviews, a comic I’ve been able to commission, as well as resources for freelancers and Autistic individuals.”

“It’s insulting to ask me to do whatever for ‘exposure’. Exposure isn’t a tangible concept – it doesn’t pay my bills”

Creative Money icon
Do you ever do unpaid work? What are your thoughts on this?

“Very, very occasionally. Right now, the blog is not profitable – despite ‘breaking even’ last year – due to the pandemic. Sometimes smaller magazines that cannot afford to pay allow you to pursue a story you wouldn’t have been able to take up elsewhere. I recently interviewed Lissie for BN1 Magazine – everywhere I pitched had quite specific rejections, she did not ostensibly fit the ‘brand’, etc. I got to interview her down the phone – and it’s still one of my favourite interviews I’ve conducted.

“That being said, I don’t think it should be allowed. Freelancers are highly qualified individuals. They are just as valuable as staff reporters – you should be paying for the service you use. I sometimes feel like freelance contracts have just been used to pay less, to still create a quality product – but we need time and resources… it’s insulting to ask me to do whatever for “exposure”. Exposure isn’t a tangible concept – it doesn’t pay my bills – so why would I agree to that?”

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters
What decisions or experiences have proved most valuable in helping you to establish yourself within the industry?

“Firstly, I have been invited to events that Hacked Off have held. While the issue of press regulation is still controversial, it was utterly harrowing to hear the stories of people who’d been harassed, placed under surveillance, etc. Journalism has a responsibility; we are the gate-keepers, but we cannot behave in such a way to people, regardless of fame or fortune. I have this at the forefront of my mind most days – and it informs the way I talk to sources.

“Secondly, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ is a phrase I grew up with. Derren Brown wrote of changing our stories, the stories we tell ourselves [essentially, making the choice to reframe the way we view ourselves and our limitations] – and doing that can work really well.”

What have you found to be the best resources in terms of figuring out how to earn money and sustain yourself as a journalist?

Journo Resources was the first website I came across, while studying, that I thought ‘they get it’. As an Autistic individual, I have often had to battle to be heard – and not just be taken as someone who ‘suffers’. (Yep, this has been said to me on several occasions – and is a disgusting trope. It also can prevent me doing the job I do.) There is a wealth of resources, and I learnt a lot more than I thought I would – with CVs, how to invoice, and more.

The Bloglancer is run by journalist Jenna Farmer. It’s a blog about how to make money blogging, as well as freelance journalism. Here was someone experiencing the same I was – who was maybe just that little bit older, and a little bit wiser! The posts are accessible, cover a slew of issues, and I have gotten some work from the fortnightly jobs board.

PressPad is an organisation that is devoted to #DiversifyTheMedia. I wish they’d been around when I was starting to get interested in journalism! The pandemic means they’re running a great outreach programme – with masterclasses, CV clinics, and more.”

Freelance journalist Lydia Wilkins
Lydia Wilkins (right)
Have you had any good financial role models?

“Not really, no…”

How do you attempt to deal with the inevitable ups and downs in cash flow that come with freelancing?

“I must admit, I am not really sure how to answer this one…”


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


Do you find that you have to keep a close eye on your finances? What tools and resources help you to do so?

“Yes. My support worker has suggested I may have a condition that affects my ability to interpret numbers – it’s something I really struggle with. I use a form of journaling, month by month, to keep a track of my finances – such as with ongoing invoices, and keeping a visual record of my financial history. Bullet journaling can help.”

Are you saving for retirement? Is this something you feel is feasible?

“Not just yet! I am looking to get into full-time employment. Though I am a trained reporter – and have interviewed people like Anastacia, Sir Harold Evans, Jodi Picoult – I have often found myself on the end of discrimination. I am slowly transitioning; then I will save for retirement.”

“I use a form of journaling, month by month, to keep track of my finances”

Creative Money icon
Is there anything that bugs you about the way the industry operates, particularly in terms of finances or money management, that you would like to change for the better?

“What bothers me is the way freelancers are treated. You are supposed to be paid within 30 days – and late payments can apply. This is the law, yet so many publications willingly flout this! Apparently, it takes 45 days to get set up on one finance system, I was told for one publication. And I think I also had to follow up that payment… Freelancers are becoming more and more used, across more and more industries. It’s about time they were treated fairly – with pay that’s in line with a staff job, equal across all characteristics – and not just as an afterthought.”

Have you noticed any issues relating to finance that might prove a barrier to diversity in the industry? And do you have any ideas for improving the situation?

“I’m not sure I have any practical solutions. It’s a really good question to be asking, but it is not always to do with hiring, but more about [what we can do] at an educational level. For journalism, if your parents are university educated and were reporters – plus, being male and white with your own degree – it gives you a hell of an advantage… I wouldn’t know what to say to that – but I wrote about it here.”

What’s the most valuable advice you can offer to someone starting out in the industry?

“One of my mentors worked for Reuters, and is sometimes looked-up to as a kind of ethics authority. I asked for him, and I remember the most valuable piece of advice he gave me: ‘at the end of the day, you only have yourself to answer to.’ Regardless of having to pay your bills, keep to deadlines, as long as you are okay with what you’re doing – if it ‘sits right’ – then that’s okay.’”

The summary:

  1. If you’re going to write for free, write for yourself. The much-vaunted ‘exposure’ offered by non-paying platforms is rarely worth it. Spend the time building your own audience.
  2. Change the stories you tell yourself. Do you avoid pitching opportunities for fear of rejection? This can be a self-perpetuating cycle: fearing failure means we don’t try, which results in guaranteed failure. Instead, try telling yourself ‘I need to give it a go to find out if this works…’
  3. Find resources that demystify your industry. There are some excellent resources emerging for the world of freelance journalism and writing. Check out Journo Resources, Press Pad and The Bloglancer.
  4. Try bullet journaling to get a visual representation of what’s happening with your finances, month-to-month. If you struggle with numbers, bullet journaling can give you a more ‘hands-on’ sense of your cash flow. Here are some ideas on that.
  5. Journalism is still dominated by white males with degrees. Diversifying access to education and training is key to addressing this imbalance.

Support Lydia Wilkins’ work!

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

Categories
Guides

How to manage your money on a variable income

Are you self-employed, freelance, or a contractor with a variable income? Here’s how to cope with the financial peaks and troughs

Nearly half of creative workers (47%) are freelance or self-employed (source: ONS, 2017). Chief among those are writers, producers, artists and directors – it’s a large and significant part of almost all creative industries. One of the key challenges for this group is managing money on an irregular or variable income. So what can we do to smooth-out the financial ups and downs that we will inevitably face in a given year?

The key is learning to syphon-off your income in normal and higher-earning months into a ‘top-up fund’, so you can top things up from your savings when needed.

This would be easy if humans were calm, logical creatures, but we’re not – so we need a way to tell whether or not we should save or withdraw (and by how much) in a given month.

Turning a problem into a question

If we put a little effort in upfront, we can save ourselves from guesswork down the line.

In order to do this, we’re going to answer these five questions…

  1. How much do I earn?
  2. How much do I spend?
  3. How much am I normally left with?
  4. How can I create a more consistent income?
  5. How much do I need?

Why? Well, if you know how much you earn and how much you spend in a given month, you can figure out what you are left with. This is your personal cash flow.

All businesses ultimately survive or perish based on their cash flow (overall, is there more money flowing in than flowing out?) and it’s the same in your personal finances.

Once you have a predicted cash flow figure for the month, you know whether you will likely need to pay in or out from your savings (your ‘top-up fund’) for that period. This will help smooth-out that variable income over the longer term.

Answering the final question (‘How much do I need?’), gives you the comfort of knowing the minimum amount you’ll need to live on in a given month. The bigger the gap you can create between your income and this essential spending, the more you can potentially save into your top-up fund – and the bigger cushion you’ll have to smooth-out the financial ups and downs.

This is quite a lot of information to pull together initially, so I’ve put together a spreadsheet to help you keep track and – if it all goes to plan – to do some of the calculations for you.

Free spreadsheet!

The sheet is designed to be used to log your answers to some of these questions and calculate your cash flow for a typical month.

You can then stop there, or you can use it to keep track over the longer term. Keep it up-to-date and the sheet will help you figure out how to spread your variable income more evenly throughout the year. We do this using a ‘top-up fund’.

You can download the sheet above and there are links and tips (in bold, with the lightbulb icon) throughout this piece to help you understand where to enter the relevant information.

Even with the whizzy spreadsheet above, this stuff can take time, so don’t stress if you find you have to do it in instalments. The clarity is worth the effort.

1. How much do I earn?

First, let’s figure out what you have coming in normally.

If you have any salaried work (or state benefit) that pays a regular, fixed amount, use your bank statements or pay cheque to find out your monthly income.

Make a note, or add this into the top ‘Salary income’ box for your ‘Typical Month’ on the supplied spreadsheet.

But I’m freelance and my income is a nightmare…

It’s a bit messy, but finding a past average is probably the simplest and most helpful place to start. We’re looking to smooth-out future dips and bumps in income, so a figure that represents the middle of your ‘normal’ range is useful here.

Ideally, you want to represent a long period with the average – a year or more – but you can hone this and update down-the-line. Right now, settle for making a start.

So… add up your income for your chosen period and divide the figure by the amount of months it covers.

Total income for period ÷ Number of months in period = Average monthly income

For instance, if you earned £12,000 in freelance income over 12 months, your average would be £1,000 a month.

Some ideas about where to find this information:
  • Banking apps (you may be able to just filter income only transactions)
  • Your income statement (where you track invoices etc.)
  • Your tax returns (dig out that Self Assessment login)
  • Ask your accountant

If you’re setup as a company, make sure you factor in your dividend income for the year here, too.

Once you’ve found it, make a note.

You can drop your average freelance income figure in the ‘Freelance income’ box of your ‘Typical Month’ on the spreadsheet. This will then be added to any salaried income or benefits you specified, in order to tell you your average total income.

Then take a break…

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters

2. How much do I spend?

Now let’s figure out your spending for a typical month.

Sit down with your banking app or statements and go through your spending for the last month (or one you feel is truly representative of your typical expenses – if in doubt, be pessimistic).

Split the month’s spending into categories of fixed and variable expenses.

Fixed expenses

Your fixed expenses will be recurring bills and spending (e.g. rent or mortgage, insurance, gas/electric and other direct debits), which do not usually vary month-to-month.

You can enter your fixed expenses on the sheet, under – you guessed it – the ‘Fixed Expenses’ heading. Add the corresponding figures in the ‘Typical Month’ column.

Variable expenses

Variable expenses are things that may might vary month-to-month, for instance: travel costs, food shopping, eating out, or gifts and entertainment.

It’s a good idea to make groups under your variable expenses to reflect your spending priorities and help you to see where your money is going. There are some examples on the sheet above already. Keep it simple, though – no more than 10 groups.

If you just can’t face doing all of this immediately, settle for totting up any expenses not covered in your fixed category and lump them all in one ‘other expenses’ group.

(This sort of thing makes accountants reach for the smelling salts, but you can always come back and split this out out at a later date.)

Make a note of the totals.

You can enter your groups on the first column of the sheet under the ‘Variable Expenses’ heading and add the corresponding figures in the ‘Typical Month’ column.

Can I make a robot do this for me?

Yes! Or at least, sort of… There are several apps out there that will help to automate the process of grouping expenses. Some of the fancier bank apps do this and there’s also the likes of MoneyHub and Money Dashboard, which allow you to connect and monitor multiple accounts/banks.

You can set your own groups or categories for expenses, but you will have to check-in and tag/correct your transactions. However, it does ‘gameify’ it somewhat, so if you’re a phone addict, it could work for you.

Adding it up

Now add the total of your fixed expenses and variable expenses together. Hello, monthly spending!

Fixed monthly expenses + Variable monthly expenses = Monthly spending

Again, on the spreadsheet, it will do this for you and give you a figure for total expenses, as well as factoring in any savings you specify.

That’s the hardest bit done. Congratulations! Again, this is a good point to take a break.

3. How much am I normally left with (i.e. what’s my typical cash flow)?

If you’ve been using the sheet, just scroll down and look at the ‘cash flow for the month’ total to see what’s left in a typical month.

If you don’t want to use the sheet, you’re simply doing the following calculation for your example month:

Total income for month – total spending for month = cash flow for month

What does this mean?

If you have a positive number, this is an amount you can save to supplement leaner months, using a ‘top-up fund’.

Bear in mind, too, that this ‘Typical Month’ cash flow figure might look small, but you are using an averaged income at this point, so even a small surplus is a good thing. It suggests an overall trend of more cash flowing in than flowing out.

If you get a negative number at this point, it means that on average you are likely spending more than you earn (a negative cash flow), or are on course to do so in the near future.

Don’t panic – this is good information to have, but you will need to cut expenses or raise your income to sustain yourself over the longer term. Figuring out your essential expenses (Q5. ‘How much do I need?’) will help here.

4. How can I create a more consistent income?

The answer is to create your own overdraft, using a ‘top-up fund’.

As soon as you are earning more than you spend, set-up an easy-access savings account to set this remaining cash aside. This is your ‘top-up fund’. So how do we do use it?

One method is to simply use your average income (as logged under your ‘Typical Month’) as a guide, as follows:

Earn more than your average income?

Pay the difference into the top-up fund.

Earn less than your average income?

Withdraw the difference from your top-up fund.

Of course expenses vary as much as income and most of us will need to keep a closer eye on things.

If you want to keep a better track on your finances and expenses, update the sheet monthly with your income and predicted spending and it will tell you whether to save or withdraw the ‘cash flow for the month’ figure.

* Updating requires much less effort than finding the initial figures, particularly if you set up your expense groups using an app – you’ve done the hard work already.

My mind won’t let me do this. It needs shiny things.

I hear you. Some things that might help you:

  • Make the ‘top-up fund’ deposit/withdrawal early – as soon as you can once payments have cleared.
  • Keep your ‘top-up fund’ with a different bank. You still want easy access, but for some reason the mental difference of having to login to a different platform can make you less inclined to dip-in to those savings.
  • Use separate accounts for bills (fixed expenses) and variable spending. Direct your earnings to a bills account and then transfer a regular amount (your variable expense total) over to your spending account and spend according to your priorities that month, knowing your bills are covered. Once you run out of cash in your spending account, that’s your lot for the month.
  • Don’t think of your ‘top-up fund’ as spare money. It is essentially your future income. ‘Borrowing’ too much from it now is like a salaried worker asking for an advance.

5. How much do I need?

Need to create a bigger gap between your earnings and spending? First, find out your essential expenses…

Look over your spreadsheet/notes/crumpled napkin with your expense totals and consider which items could be cancelled or easily and quickly reduced, if necessary.

For instance, rent is still considered compulsory by most landlords, but you may be able to avoid the posh shops for a bit and spend less on food.

If you’re using the spreadsheet, simply duplicate your ‘Typical Month’ column expenses to the ‘Essential Expenses’ column and remove/reduce, accordingly.

Add it all up. Now you know your essential spending – the bare minimum amount you could exist on from either your income, or savings.

Are you asking me to remove all joy from my life?

No, but this figure is really useful to bear in mind for a number of reasons, for instance…

  • If you’re making an effort to boost your ‘top-up fund’ or other savings (because income – essential expenses = your maximum current saving rate).
  • If you want a minimum earnings goal, particularly if you are risk averse and keen to always avoid spending more than you earn (creating negative cash flow) within a month.
  • If you’re assessing whether or not you can afford to pass on that boring work you’ve been offered, or start that new thing.

Found it hard to save in the past, or looking for a way to get started? Check out our tips on How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


I’m doing it! It’s worked! What next?

Keeping one eye on your cash flow is key to avoiding nasty surprises. If you keep the sheet up-to-date, it can help you do this.

It has columns for ‘Year Total’ and ‘Year Average’, too, which can be really helpful in showing whether your overall cash flow is positive or negative for the year, as well as your average income etc. The year average can then me imported to the next year to form the basis of your ‘typical month’ column and the cycle starts over.

As you get more confident, it’s a good idea to start to increase your top-up fund savings (by cutting costs, or boosting income) until you have at least a month’s ‘salary’ on-hand.

A final note…

This approach should be regarded as a useful rule-of-thumb. It is a collection of various techniques that have worked for me, but it is not 100% foolproof.

For instance, it initially relies on your past income and predicted spending trends prevailing to keep your top-up fund savings balanced, which (particularly in the current climate) will not always prove to be the case.

In addition, the more dramatically your income fluctuates (say, you have three or four ‘big’ paydays, which sustain you through the year), the more you will need to set aside before you start using this technique regularly. In this case, build the ‘top-up fund’ as much as you can for time being and implement the system following your next big payday.

Nonetheless, the above represents my best effort to date. As we gather more ideas and resources on Creative Money, I will endeavour to update this guide and the spreadsheet.

Ultimately, the minimum you’ll get out of it is a better knowledge of your earnings, spending and the importance of cash flow, all of which can be really useful. Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.